Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Arches of Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon is said to have the highest concentration of arches in the nation outside of Arches National Park, but is not easy to reach, all three options pose challenges. For one, a short drive from Fruita, CO to the Pollack Bench trailhead begins a strenuous round trip hike of at least 15 miles. Another option is a five mile RT trail that can only be accessed directly from the Colorado River.

We chose the six mile RT hike accessible from the Rattlesnake Canyon trailhead...via an 11 mile drive through Colorado National Monument then a 13 mile drive down a narrow dirt road with very few wide places for passing. The last two miles of the dirt road is rough, with big enough boulders and drop offs that we chose to park about a mile from the trailhead and walk the rest of the way.

But first, as we made our way through Colorado National Monument on the way to the trailhead a chance sighting brought us to a screeching halt...

What a way to start the day!

He seems to be watching the sunrise on one side and keeping an eye his harem across the road below.

Can you see the five bighorn sheep in this shot?

As the sun came over the sandstone bluff this beautiful apparition moved on and so did we. The dirt road to the trailhead was had us gritting our teeth, hoping we'd not meet up with anyone coming out and, near the end, hoping we'd find a big enough turn around and parking place when the road seemed too rough to continue.

From our parking spot about a mile from the trailhead we had a great view into Rattlesnake Canyon,
so named for its curvy lines, not its abundance of snakes.
It turns out the arches are in the top layer of sandstone on the right,
we did not have to go to the bottom of the canyon, we hiked on the top bench.

We saw an arch across the canyon, and it wasn't even part of the arch hike!

This beautiful juniper skeleton frames potential future arches across Rattlesnake Canyon.

From the trailhead we hiked about two miles or so before we came to the first of the arches...
well actually three arches at once!

As we walked along the bench arches would appear seemingly around every corner!

From our position on the bench we could look down into the canyon to admire the fragile looking spires below.

Often we could not see an arch until we passed the alcove.

Even without an arch the sandstone formations were amazing.

The last arch was substantial.

I'd read that if you could scale the last arch you could make the hike a loop by connecting with the overlook trail above...
we tried, but there was not a chance for us, it's way too steep!

As we hiked back past each arch we caught a person peering into an arch on the overlook trail above us!

Pinion Pine nuts!

This was a fantastic day on the trail, worth it if you have a vehicle that can make the drive (it's those last two miles that is the problem). We did meet three vehicles on the drive out, fortunately with small places to just barely get past each other! We'd been warned not to drive the road if there was a possibility of rain, this soil turns slick at the slightest bit of water and we were lucky there unexpected cloud burst later in the afternoon could have stranded us out there!

This was our last full day in Fruita, CO, stay tuned for a wrap up of the many trails we hiked in the past week. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we're off to Ridgway CO.


  1. We have driven right past Fruita so many times...I never knew! The arches are beautiful! But I especially like the bighorn sheep! I agree, what a way to start the day. Hope the storms pass thru quickly and quietly...enjoy Ridgeway!

  2. Wow, such beautiful arches! Wish some of the Arches NP crowds would spread out that way a bit. haha!! Nice sheep shot! Don't miss Tacos del Gnar in Ridgeway (closed Sun and Mon) for some of the best tacos I have ever tasted!

  3. Looks great. We usually hit the Kokopelli or North Desert Trails on our mountain bikes and will have to check this one out once the rattlesnakes take a nap. Hope the weather holds out for you.

  4. What a great place! I absolutely love the red rock desert. I will have to put that on the must see list.

  5. Oh what a cool trail! Bighorn sheep and arches a'plenty!

  6. Great photos of the bighorn sheep and your hike. Thank you for taking the time to do photos and post so soon.

  7. So glad you made it to the arches! I so wanted to do this hike and we tried on our driest day. But we never got beyond the entrance and our wheels were covered with an inch layer of mud. As we got out to check the road, there was a downhill right away and the mud at the bottom was at least a foot deep. Oh, well, I'll add that to my return when I do the Crag Crest Trail, also:) Aren't the sheep wonderful! We saw them almost everyday that we went into the monument. Love you photos:)

  8. Fantastic pictures of both the big horns and those magnificent arches. What a hike! We clearly haven't spent enough time doing Colorado. We visited the National Monument and had no idea about the arches. Not sure our car could do the drive though. Darn it! What a wonderful day you had.

  9. Great iconic shots of the sheep! I remember reading about that trail to all the arches but when we were there we didn't have the Subaru yet so we knew there was no way we could drive our car back there. Glad you made it!

  10. You've discovered the best way to capture the Bighorns - in silhouette. Brilliant!

  11. Another bold day for you two! And the bighorn sheep and arches were a big bold reward for your efforts.

  12. Gorgeous shots of the sheep! That is a lot of arches on one trail - and each of them so different. Love the delicate looking spires. Beautiful area :-))

  13. Breathtaking! We loved Arches NP, but the solitude of this place looks even more magnificent!

  14. How beautiful! Those arches definitely rival the arches in Arches!. I would love to see Rattlesnake Canyon and do that hike, but getting to the trailhead sounds iffy. Sounds like you made a good choice by hiking in the last two miles to the trailhead.

  15. This area is astounding. Love the Big Horn Sheep pics.